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I Finally Got Covid. Here's What I'm Learning.
Some non-polemical observations on the mysterious virus that ruined everything as we knew it.
I first sat down to write this on November 12th. It was my 45th birthday, and to celebrate, the universe offered me the great gift of my first positive COVID test since the pandemic began.
I joked that whole day with my kids, thanking them for giving me such a tremendous gift that must come from deepest reaches of their being. Five days later, I still feel like lukewarm garbage, my brain is in a fog that makes doing almost any task that requires real concentration quite difficult, and I’m really looking forward to getting to the other side of it.
I don’t know how many people have avoided COVID entirely at this point. I’m notoriously reclusive and avoid crowded events, and my kids hadn’t been in a physical school between March of 2020 and August of 2022. Maybe that’s how I dodged it, but I went out frequently, avoided masks whenever it wasn’t going to cause a public spectacle, and am not particularly germophobic. A number of times I had illnesses, or the beginning of illnesses that went away with sufficient rest and vitamin supplements, that I supposed might have been some milder form of COVID, but they never rose to the level that I thought I should get checked.
This time, it was different. My wife had a feeling early on when our family members started dropping like flies with fevers and bad headaches and body aches like they’d been used as human pinballs.
“I bet we have COVID,” she said.
“If I said that, you’d say I was a hypochondriac,” I said.
“If you said that, you would be a hypochondriac,” she said. “But I’m not you.”
Of course, she was right.
(This sums up a great deal about our relationship.)
Vaccinated or Not, Here It Comes
I’m the only one in the house who has been vaccinated. My wife, still breastfeeding, felt uncomfortable with the idea, and I shared her concern. I simply am not willing to play Russian Roulette with the possibility of vaccine-induced myocarditis in my kids, who have robust immune systems of their own and are outliers for severe risk. But for me, the stakes were less clear. I had childhood asthma, which is a risk factor, and I enjoy some of the most common co-morbidities: I’m fat, and I have (as yet untreated) high blood pressure. I’ve been trying to break the bad habits that have made me less-than-healthy for many years, but I wasn’t going to bet on my ability to suddenly do so quickly to outrun a pandemic. The stats at my age still seemed mostly in my favor, but the anecdotal stories whispered in my ear. The local restaurant owner, same age as me, who succumbed, leaving a wife and children. The sister of one of my wife’s close high school friends, who died in her early 40s, also leaving children behind. Two employees of a good friend of mine, one who wound up in the ICU before recovering, the other of whom didn’t make it. A young, healthy colleague of my wife who wasn’t worried, only to get sick for months and nearly be taken out by the subsequent pneumonia he contracted. Similar stories told to me by other social media contacts about people they knew.
For me, the question was: which danger seemed greater, the virus or the vaccine? It wasn’t that hard to choose.
Which is not to say I didn’t have reservations.
I have friends who work in the healthcare system who have expressed concerns to me about these vaccines from before the time they were released. One friend in particular, who is not opposed to vaccines in general, was privy to some internal government policy meetings on the subject, and felt as though our betters were knowingly treating the populace like guinea pigs while the consequences were being kicked down the road to deal with later. If the pharmaceutical companies were subject to liability for vaccine side effects, fears like this might have been ameliorated somewhat. But big pharma has blanket immunity, and that’s a recipe for making consequence-free life-altering mistakes by companies notorious for being willing to play fast and loose with the public good for the sake of profits all the time anyway.
All of this made me uneasy. But so did being in a susceptible group. I weighed my risks the best that I could with the information I had, and then bit the bullet, receiving both doses of the Pfizer vaccine in 2021. My most recent shot was in September of that year. I had no adverse side effects, but I still chose not to get boosted. I am not interested in an annual subscription plan to the latest vaccine, with all its attendant unknown side effects.
Again, trust issues.
Neither, though, do I trust many of the suggestions of the well-meaning folks on the anti-vaccine side. Off-label medication use explicitly warned against by the medical establishment, alleging potential dangers therein, wreaks havoc on my empirical mind. How do I know who to trust and who to be suspicious of? How does a layman adjudicate between Medicine, Inc. as a whole and a few rogue doctors challenging the narrative? Both sides say that if you listen to the other, you’ll likely be seriously injured or even die.
How is it fair to any of us to be put in a position to have to choose between the two when we lack the relevant knowledge to choose wisely, and the stakes are potentially so high?
I’m open to the possible benefits of natural medicine — after all, many modern pharmaceuticals find their origins in plants or fungi in the natural world. My wife is from a Chinese family, and the Chinese have used natural medicines for thousands of years. She’s no shaman, but she believes traditional medicine does have efficacy, and is a skeptic when it comes to the “experts.” We both very much believe that food is essential to health, and that the quality of nutrition matters. I take a number of immune-boosting supplements daily: Vitamin C & D, Host Defense Immune Support, pro-biotics, pre-biotics, and so on.
I’m even cool with things like essential oils — they smell great, and I at worst they don’t do any harm — but I’m positively allergic to anything genuinely homeopathic. My skepticism probably dates back to my childhood, when I was prone to getting pretty severe cases of strep throat. One time, my mom took the advice of another mother who was into homeopathy. I was given some ridiculous little sugar pills to dissolve under my tongue. It was a summer day in upstate New York — no air conditioning — and I lay sweltering with fever, barely able to swallow on the couch at my cousins’ house while all the other kids went swimming at the nearby pond.
Suffice to say, until I got antibiotics, I didn’t get better. And my inclination is still to trust real, tested medication over DIY homebrew treatments.
So yes, I got vaccinated. And being the only one in a large family who did, I have to say I noticed a difference.
But I still got pretty sick.
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How it Started
The weekend of November 5th, I felt wheezy and run down. I started showing signs of a cough. I couldn’t tell if it was allergies or the start of a cold, so I just made sure I was on my supplement game and carried on. My symptoms disappeared by Monday or Tuesday, and I thought that was that.
On Tuesday, my oldest son said he felt terrible. Headache, body ache, sore throat. One by one, the rest of the kids (except our first grader, ironically enough) began falling prey. On Wednesday, we ran around to different stores to get the ingredients to make Vietnamese Phở, our family’s favorite feel-better soup. By Thursday, when we got a call that one of our kids was in the nurse’s office with a fever, I made the executive decision to pull everyone out. My wife was already feeling awful, and I didn’t know how long I’d hold out. At this point, we had multiple kids dealing with fevers, sore throats, fatigue, body aches, the whole nine.
By Friday night, I started feeling like garbage. I started with stomach pain and other less pleasant gastrointestinal issues. Overnight, it hit me full on. It hurt to roll over in bed. It was really hard to muster up the strength to get up and go to the bathroom. I wound up with chills, so I bundled up, only to wake up sweating later. The wheezy cough was back.
That was the story for the next few days. We did nothing but sit on the couch or lie in bed. Every movement stunk on ice. Every joint ached. One of the worst things was the dizziness. Shift your eyes too fast and the room starts reeling. We finally ordered an instacart delivery of some rapid COVID tests — neither of us really felt up to driving — and sure enough, I got a positive result.
How it’s Going
Oddly, I sat down to start writing this on the evening of my first full day of symptoms because I had an unexpected burst of energy after I took a shower. Less achy, less dizzy. Still fairly wheezy. Keeping an eye on things. Wanted to write it down while the thoughts were fresh. It occurred to me that despite all the talk of reduced efficacy from original vaccines vs. the Omicron variants, I wasn’t as miserable as my wife, even though she’d been presenting symptoms for longer. The days that followed have been up and down for me, and that early burst of energy definitely passed. The body aches and chills were mostly gone after a few days, but the fatigue, the cough, the feeling of a sinus-heavy cold, and the damned “COVID sweats” — full body cold sweats for no apparent reason — are ongoing.
These are the symptoms I’ve had:
Cough/Wheezing/Shortness of breath
Brain Fog - the feeling that you just can’t concentrate on anything particularly difficult, and have low mental energy in general
Random, excessive sweating (with no fever)
Symptoms I’ve not had that others in my family have had:
Loss of taste/smell
Bad headaches (everyone else in the house has these)
My wife has had all of the symptoms I had except the sweats, and 4 out of 4 of the symptoms I haven’t. The only thing she didn’t have was loss of taste or smell. She has an itchy rash on much of her torso, which nobody else has gotten but which appears to be a common symptom based on my Google-Fu. She got sick first, and although neither of us feels great, she has been feeling significantly worse for longer. Since she’s generally healthier than I am, I have a suspicion that my vaccination status accounts for the difference in our experience.
How It’s Affecting the Kids
COVID is supposed to go easy on kids, but mine got hit pretty hard. The younger kids seem to be recovering the fastest, but even there, it kind of depends.
It took our 15-year old, Ivan, who came down with it first, about five days to clear the obvious symptoms. His exhaustion continues even though he’s now past the 1-week mark. He’s been sleeping most of the day the past few days. He’s up for a few hours and seems normal, but then is back to bed to repeat the fatigue routine. He hasn’t been able to return to school.
My daughter Sophia, who is 16, came down with it later the same day. She has more energy than Ivan, but is still feeling miserable. She lost her sense of taste and smell a day or two ago, and it has not yet come back. She went to school today, very unenthusiastically (the school has a 5-day policy on COVID, so she’s giving it her best effort, but it’s dicey.) Yesterday, she slept a lot throughout the day, and has a persistent cough.
Alex, who is 13, seemed to come out of it after a few days, but some of his symptoms have lingered. He’s exhausted but can’t sleep at night. (I’ve also been very restless at night, and I suspect there’s something virus-related at work.) He keeps having stomach pain and is having a hard time bringing himself to eat. He has very poor energy levels.
Jude, age 11, who was the one in the nurse’s office with a fever, took about two or three days to mostly clear it. He seems to be back to his normal self.
Liam, age 9, never had a fever, although he did feel awful and had a cough. He seems more or less back to his old self, too.
Mia, who is 7, seems completely unscathed. She has had a persistent cough that’s come and gone since the beginning of the school year, but I don’t know if that’s related.
Generally, the younger the child, the less severe the infection seems to be. This tracks with everything I’ve heard.
Unfortunately Eli, the baby, who is rambunctious all day, still had a barking cough the first couple of nights and wass breathing loudly in his sleep like he’s struggling. After the third or fourth day, his nighttime respiratory distress seems to have diminished somewhat, but I was worried about him for a couple of days.
I’ve never seen a more polarizing topic than COVID and its associated treatments, whether mainstream or alternative. My observations here are for my future reference and for your information, whether you just want to compare notes, or if you haven’t gotten it yet, so you know what you might expect.
What I can tell you is this: while some people have very few symptoms, for those who get sick with it, COVID isn’t just a cold, or even just a flu. For us, it was certainly worse than either, even though I think we got off pretty lightly, all things considered. I can imagine a version of this that is absolutely deadly. On the third day or so, I felt like there was a clenched fist in the center of my chest. It started to remind me of asthma attacks when I was a kid, where it was a struggle to just get enough air. But luckily, my immune system (and the help it got from the vaccine) kicked in, and the worst of that seems to be over. The cough has gone from being rooted in a deep, wheezing itch you dare not scratch or you may not be able to stop coughing to something slightly productive and more manageable.
My family seems to have a very solid set of immune systems and we rarely get sick, almost never all at the same time. We don’t have annual stomach flus like a lot of folks. The most we’ll get is an occasional cold, and we never have multiple kids home from school at once. This thing had us all laid out, and we were seeing fevers in the 102F range from some of the kids. The absolute wipeout of any energy or ability to focus is significant. We’re beginning to wonder about “Long COVID” and how much time it’s going to take to bounce back, as well as how long some of the symptoms will persist. School wants the kids all back, but I don’t want to send the ones who aren’t 100% back there to fall asleep on their desks or stare, glazed looks in their eyes, unable to concentrate. Missing nearly a week of school is a lot, and I don’t want them to get behind, but there’s no speeding this thing up. It’s persistent and doesn’t give a crap what you have going on. Work has been mostly back-burnered for the same reasons, and that is far from ideal when you’re trying to build a business and have a lot of irons in the fire.
Seeing how much more my wife has been suffering, particularly from the fevers and debilitating headaches, and the longer-lasting body aches — and I can’t overstate that these are not insignificant; you feel like you got hit by a truck — I’m really glad I chose to get vaccinated. I’m still not keen on the idea of perpetual boosting, because I still don’t love the potential risks associated with the vaccines — risks that the pharma companies are just now reluctantly beginning to acknowledge need some examination. I’m hoping that I derived some additional natural immunity from this that will be beneficial going forward. I guess time will tell. I’m not willing to live in a bubble, though. Not willing to go back to masking on the regular, either. I’d rather get this again, as much as it sucked, than to continue to live that way. I have serious doubts about mask efficacy in any case.
It’s weird to me that this is going to just be part of our annual cycle of nasty respiratory ailments from here on out, even while it continues to create strange and disparate symptoms not just in general, but in small, isolated infected populations like my family. There has been a lot of variation in our experience, and that strikes me as rather odd.
I was reading a thing last night about how researchers have recently discovered that mutations that allowed people to survive the Bubonic Plague are still in our genetic code 700 years later, and have an impact on other autoimmune disease susceptibility. If “Long Bubonic” is still with us, one can’t help but wonder where “Long COVID” will take us.
We’ve got days to go before we’re out of the COVID woods, and an indefinite amount of time before we know whether there are any such lingering, long-term effects.
All I can say is: stay healthy my friends.